Stepping into Scorn is like falling into an H. R. Giger or Zdzisław Beksiński painting, a gruesome world fashioned out of organic fleshy materials that invite you to poke your fingers into squishy holes and severed limbs. It’s a strange feeling. Falling into their grotesque work seems like the last thing you’d ever want to do, but it’s grotesque in a strangely beautiful way.
It’s no wonder Giger helped Ridley Scott create the Xenomorph for Alien, but there are other morbid artists who look at the beauty in the uninviting, with aesthetics that would be a perfect foundation for similarly unnerving worlds that are bleak yet stunning.
Games offer us a unique chance to experience these creative ideas as living organisms, going hand-in-hand with artists like Giger and Beksiński, but it also makes for a fresh approach to horror that’s more separate from films. There’s abstract pulp cosmic terror, 1800s nihilism, and fantastical versions of the Middle Ages from a whole range of artists, so here are some I’d love to see games draw from after Scorn’s success.
Bosch was a painter in the 1400s known for works like The Garden of Earthly Delights that didn’t strive to capture a realistic depiction of the Middle Ages, but a surrealist take that featured people constructed out of ceramics turned into homes or decorations where naked partygoers would lounge. There are tubs of black goo, instruments with hands, giant ears on spitfires, and fish people lapping it up alongside rabbit men.
It’s an almost Alice in Wonderland-like world, only far more unnerving. The decorative heads have empty black eyes with rats crawling inside, and the fish people can be seen eating humans and plopping them out in large blue bubbles, dropping them into holes below. Where Scorn embraced a nightmare world made of innards and flesh, a game centred around Bosch’s work could explore the party life of our ancestors and the paranoia over our animalistic instincts.
The Black Paintings is my favourite collection of art, a distinctive gallery from Francisco Goya from the early 1800s that’s a far cry from his other work. It’s much darker, with demonic creatures devouring children and human faces that, on closer inspection, begin to fall apart and lose their structure, with only vague features providing an air of familiarity. That makes them incredibly disturbing, like peering at someone from the corner of your eye, forever unable to make out their image.
This collection is an infamous classic, with a muted colour palette that reflects the truly bleak nature of our world, capturing Goya’s dwindling hope perfectly. He’d suffered two near-fatal illnesses, so some believe that his art is an insight into his worsening state of mind. Being able to experience that gradual loss more personally, and bringing a contemporary commentary to his pessimism, would make for a rich world worth exploring.
Ed Emshwiller’s work is far less bleak than Goya’s or Bosch’s, and each piece is distinct in aesthetic, but they follow a key theme – bizarre, cosmic, and full of incomprehensible tech and unsettling figures. We have insect-like apparitions in a blood-red sky, a man’s consciousness seemingly ripped from him by machines, and thoughts flurrying into a fan as a stranger lies head down on the ground.
Where Scorn takes Giger’s work and lets us step directly into it, a game exploring Emshwiller would have to bring together so many unique ideas to form its own cohesive world, making its own interpretations of each piece. I see it as a commentary on our growing reliance on tech and the gradual dehumanisation that brings, with pieces like The Illuminated Man seeing a terrified figure melding into the digital world, while The Spiral of the Ages sees a crashed ship billowing with smoke while images of women in the clouds above laugh at the suffering pilots.
This game would be, at times, incomprehensible, with tech beyond our wildest dreams bordering on magical keeping a civilisation afloat, one that is familiar but collapsing in on itself due to its own unsustainable growth. Rather than riffing on sci-fi horror movies like so many games do, it would be a one-of-a-kind psychedelic venture into the bizarre, capturing a future that’s cut off almost entirely from our present.
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